B y Dan King

One of Whitehall’s most prominent summer industries opened earlier than expected.

The Champlain Canal opened for the season last Wednesday, four days earlier than previously expected. Canal Corporation officials said the early opening was thanks to a mild winter this year.

Whitehall town officials turned on the electricity and water at the free wall behind the Skenesborough Museum on Sunday, and businesses located on the canal – such as the Tavern and Marina at Lock 12 – are also prepared for boaters to come through.

According to a 2014 report from Canal Corporation, “canal system users have a total economic impact of approximately $6.2 billion annually.” The report, titled “Report on Economic Benefits of Non-Tourism Use of the NYS Canal System,” does not include the tourism money that is brought in to towns nestled along its course.

In Whitehall, various businesses see their best months during canal season, thanks to the patronage of tourists.

Carol Greenough, director of the Skenesborough Museum, said the canal brings in plenty of boaters during the summer months, and that she and her staff direct the boaters toward local businesses to patronize. For example, if boaters are looking for snacks to take on the boat, the staff may direct them to Putorti’s or Stewart’s; if boaters are looking for a place to sit down and eat, they may direct them to Historic Grounds or the Tavern at Lock 12; if boaters are looking for a drug store, they’ll send them to CVS; and if it’s the weekend, they’ll often direct boaters to Skene Manor for a tour.

“A lot of times, they’ll see the manor and say ‘tell me about that’,” Greenough said.

The number of boaters traveling through Whitehall, Greenough said, is at its highest during July. She said often times, the free wall will run out of room and boaters will have to go further down the canal to the Marina and Tavern at Lock 12 or some of the floating docks.

Robert Lynn Wagemann, owner of the Marina and Tavern at Lock 12, said previously that one of his business’ main profits during the summer months is gasoline. The Marina and Tavern at Lock 12 is one of the few area locations that offers gasoline, creating a situation where many boaters stop in Whitehall to gas up.

The canal is not just a one-and-done situation for Whitehall, either. Greenough said a lot of boaters don’t only come, grab lunch and leave; many will stay overnight and patronize multiple area businesses. She said one couple, last year, came and stayed three nights, biking all over Whitehall.

“They come knowing this is a place they can stay,” she said.

The canal is open 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. now until May 25. After that, it will be open daily from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. until Sept. 7. During the final stretch of the season, Sept. 8 to Nov. 20, the canal will be open from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Skenesborough Museum will be opening its doors in the first week of June, and will be one of three Whitehall locations listed on the Americade Scavenger Hunt map during that first week. The other businesses will be the Times Emporium and Ross Chevrolet. After that, the museum will be open all summer, and following Labor Day, will reduce its hours to only weekends.

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